BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Wilful Eye: Tales from the Tower Volume One’ (ed by Isobelle Carmody & Nan McNab, A&U)

Fairytales never die, they just get facelifts. Isobelle Carmody and Nan McNab’s collection of revamped traditional tales is the first in a two-part project exploring the genre’s deep, rich underbelly through novella form. Here, six Australian fantasy writers each choose a particularly needling tale, teasing out the universal truths and nightmares along with some more personal ones. The result is sublime, with each tale landing a punch squarely between the old and the new, bewitching and terrifying, topped off with an individual twist. Dishing up gritty modern nightmares are Rosie Borella’s ‘The Snow Queen’—now a tale of drug addiction—and Margo Lanagan’s examination of class warfare in ‘The Tinderbox’. In Martine Murray’s hands, ‘The Steadfast Tin Soldier’ becomes a haunting existential treatise, while Margaret Mahy recasts ‘Babes in the Woods’ as a triumphant coming-of-age tale. My favourites, though, were Richard Harland’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and Carmody’s ‘Rumplestiltskin’, which bring out the savagery of the originals to highlight the resourcefulness of their heroines, each beating the odds in a battle of male wagers versus female wits. Though aimed at teens, this gothic treasure trove’s reach will extend to anyone seeking to rediscover the lost fantasies of
their childhood.

Meredith Tate is a freelance writer, editor and reviewer who has worked for a children’s publisher. This review first appeared in the Junior supplement of the March issue of Bookseller+Publisher.